NEW YORK–(ENEWSPF)–19 November 2010 – The top United Nations envoy in Haiti has called on demonstrators to stop blocking roads, bridges and airports so that vital humanitarian assistance can reach the thousands of people affected by the cholera outbreak.
“Every second that passes can save or break thousands of lives,” Edmond Mulet, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative in Haiti, said in a statement issued last night.
The protests, which began in the north and have spread to other areas, have prevented aid agencies from delivering life-saving supplies for the people affected, the number of which has topped 18,000 as of 15 November.
“If this situation continues, more and more patients in desperate need of care are likely to die and more and more Haitians awaiting access to preventive care may be overtaken by the epidemic,” warned Mr. Mulet, who is also head of the UN peacekeeping force in the country, known as MINUSTAH.
UN agencies on the ground issued a joint statement today calling for an end to the violent protests that are undermining the response to the epidemic, which began in late October and is spreading rapidly, and which has so far claimed some 1,110 lives.
“The number of deaths from cholera is increasing and the security situation has prevented supplies from reaching those who most need them, such as malnourished children, pregnant women and the elderly,” said Dr. Lea Guido, Representative of the World Health Organization (WHO).
The violence is preventing the World Food Programme (WFP) from providing daily hot meals to 190,000 children in schools in Cap Haïtien in the north-east, and from assisting 35,000 pregnant women and children under the age of five to prevent malnutrition.
“If violence continues, it is the most vulnerable who will pay the price,” said Myrta Kaulard, WFP Representative in Haiti, who noted that agencies have not been able to distribute soap, water and purification tablets – all of which are critical to fight cholera, an acute diarrhoeal disease spread by contaminated food and water.
Agencies, including WHO and the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), are raising awareness in communities about how to wash hands properly, how to treat people with signs of diarrhoea and how to prepare oral rehydration salts.
Cholera is easily treatable with the prompt administration of oral rehydration salts or, in more severe cases, with intravenous fluids. If left untreated, however, it can kill within hours.
Ensuring safe water and sanitation is a major challenge in Haiti, UNICEF spokesperson Marixie Mercado said, noting that before January’s devastating earthquake, fewer than 1 in 4 people in urban areas and 1 in 10 people in rural areas had access to sanitation.
“For UNICEF and partners, the number one priority is thus treatment, prevention and improving hygiene practices,” she told a news conference in Geneva today.
WHO, along with its regional arm, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), and other partners, is focusing on providing training to staff at hospitals and the numerous cholera treatment centres that have been set up in the affected areas on how to treat cholera patients, how to separate them from other patients and how to avoid infection.
Last week UN agencies and their partners appealed for $164 million for the Cholera Inter-Sector Response Strategy for Haiti, which aims to get additional doctors, medicines and water purification equipment to respond to the epidemic.
The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) stressed today that relief organizations are in urgent need of financing and supplies, as well as for training staff on the ground.
“It is essential that all United Nations agencies and non-governmental organizations should step up their efforts and continue the good work they have been doing since the beginning, but this is difficult without materials,” said OCHA spokesperson Elisabeth Byrs. “It is thus essential to receive the requested funding.”